Today I have a bit of a reading hangover. This is what happens when I finish a really good book and just don't know what book I will turn to next. My Name Is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira has been a great, engaging read - so hard to put down, so easy to get lost in.
Mary Sutter is a young midwife in pre-civil war Albany. She is following in a long line of midwives, unlike her twin sister, who is not called to this field of work, and is more delicate and feminine. While Mary enjoys her practice as a midwife, she is also hoping to eventually become a surgeon, something unheard of in this time period.
When the Civil War breaks out, Mary is more determined than ever that she will assist the wounded soldiers, and continues in her plans to be trained by another doctor. There is much resistance to her plans, but Mary is nothing if not very persistent. And unfortunately the lack of planning for those in need of medical care during the war, does provide her the opportunity to learn much - even the skill of amputating injured limbs. Conditions during the war were horrendous at best, and Mary is often encouraged to return home, as this is no place for a woman, and yet she persists.
I was fascinated by the medical aspect that is shared - how during the Civil War doctors did not yet know that washing hands in between patients would have reduced the risk of infection. And that Mary was taught to use the same water while washing out wounds, that the pus coming from them was a good thing. (This has also been a great topic for discussion in our house over the past day of my reading). Mary is acquainted with two doctors, Dr. Stipp and Dr. Blevens, both horribly under-trained for the tragedies of the war, but both continue to try their best, truly "practicing" medicine, learning skills as they went. And, finally, there is a bit of research that comes from the different events - slides are studied and they try to make something positive come from the loss of so many lives.
In addition to Mary's quest to practice medicine, Oliveira also develops several subplots:
Jenny, Mary's twin marries a man that Mary was interested in, and becomes pregnant, creating a desire in Mary to remain far from home; Christian, Mary's brother, enlists, and their mother, Amelia, and the rest of the family wait anxiously for news from him; and Bonnie, a patient whose baby Mary helped deliver, moved in with the Sutters after her baby dies suddenly.
This is a wonderful book - an interesting plot, full of historical information, superb writing, with plenty to discuss. Finding a book to follow this one will be difficult.